This week's parsha is full of the acts of kindness of our patriarch
Avraham. The parsha begins with G-d appearing to a ninety-nine year old Avraham sitting in front of his tent suffering from his recent circumcision. The Rabbis teach us that he was waiting for guests to pass by, so he could invite them in, and he was quite discouraged by the lack thereof.
Suddenly Avraham looks up and notices three men coming nearer. Into action
he springs. Running to them and then bowing he exclaims: "Please don't pass
on from your servant. Let a little water be brought...and you'll rest under
the tree. I'll bring a morsel of bread and you'll satisfy your appetite.
Then you'll continue on your way." (Genesis 18:14-15)
The Torah describes the alacrity which the aged suffering patriarch
displays in his efforts on behalf of his guests. He excitedly runs into his
wife Sarah. "Quickly knead bread and make cakes!" Then again he runs to his
herd, chooses a good tender calf for his guests to eat, and hurries the lad
to prepare it.
Out of all the things that Avraham offered to do for his guests, why did he
offer only "a little water"? Everything else was served with great
abundance, but why of all things is the water limited? Rabbi Yisroel
Salanter (19th century) by his example gives us the answer.
Rabbi Yisroel was once travelling with a close friend of his. It was time
for afternoon prayers, and so the two entered a modest synagogue to pray.
As is customary, they both washed their hands for prayers. First, Rabbi
Yisroel's friend washed with a liberal amount of water from a basin which
was filled for this purpose, then Rabbi Yisroel followed suit, however,
using a minimal amount of water. "Aren't you accustomed to wash with a
liberal amount Reb Yisroel?" "Yes, in fact, I am. But this is a small
synagogue with a small group who comes here on a daily basis. I'm concerned
that the sexton only fills the basin with enough water for those who
usually come here to pray. If I wash liberally I may leave a noticeable
deficiency in the basin. If one of the sexton's overseers feels the sexton
is not carrying out his responsibilities correctly, it can cost him his
On another occasion Rabbi Yisroel Salanter was invited by a well to do
student of his for the Shabbos night meal. "I don't except any invitations
without first knowing about the house I'm staying in," replied the rabbi.
The student began to explain how he hired the widow of a learned man who
cooks for him who is very meticulous in her standards of keeping kosher,
and which butcher he buys from. He explained how he arranges the Friday
night meal with song and Torah discussion, and how his feast always ends at
a very late hour. "I'll accept your invitation on the condition that you
end two hours earlier," answered Rabbi Yisroel.
Indeed, the entire meal extended for less than one hour, and before the
participants recited grace after meals the host requested of his Rebbe to
explain what was wrong with his way of conducting himself, Rabbi Yisroel
did not answer, but rather summoned the widow who cooked the elaborate meal
and said to her: "Please excuse me for putting you under pressure to rush
the meal so much on my behalf." Just the opposite, I wish you would come
every week," said the woman. "I work hard all day Friday preparing, and I'm
usually falling off my feet by the late hour that we usually finish.
Because of you we finished earlier, and now I can go home and rest."
Rabbi Yisroel turned to his student and said "this woman's answer is the
answer to the question you asked me earlier. Indeed, your Friday night
customs are extremely admirable, but not if they are observed at the
expense of others."
When it comes to the work of having guests which Avraham and Sarah
committed themselves to, and which they personally undertook, the sky is
the limit. However, in the case of the water, which someone else was
bringing, Avraham did not offer that in abundance at the expense of those
who were carrying it. This is the sensitivity which Avraham conducted
himself with even when he was personally caught up in performing acts of
kindness for his guests.
The source of this dvar Torah is the work "Yalkut Lekach Tov."
Text Copyright © 2001 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.